Manipulating the Food Supply

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Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden › Ronald Holden has been writing an award-winning food, wine & travel blog,, since 2004. A ...


This year was witness to one of the worst draughts in recent history and a less-than-stellar anchovy harvest. These two events combined have created a global food market that is tenuous at best.

Ronald Holden examines the complex interdependencies of weather, politics and the near-unregulated control of the global food supply.

It’s tempting to confuse geography with destiny.

We are fortunate, here on the northwest coast of North America. Our climate is mild, and our biggest volcano is dormant. Our harvest this fall–apples, cherries, grapes–is bountiful. Our waters teem with big fish, our ports thrive with commerce. In fact, we live in an idyllic bubble, protected somehow by the spirit of our sacred salmon and our magic mountain. The rest of the world is dark, dangerous and unpredictable.

Geography and politics often interconnect, sometimes on the battlefield, sometimes at the ballot box, sometimes on the world’s dinner plate. It’s worth remembering that the Arab Spring uprising wasn’t a spontaneous, pro-democracy demonstration but a protest against food shortages.

Two examples this year of natural phenomena that affect our global, interdependent food systen, with very different results. One on land, one by sea.

First: the oceans. Earlier this year, there were storms off the coast of Peru. As a result, the anchovy harvest dropped. Anchovies, sojme 20 percent of all global fishing, are used in fish oil and fish meal, not just in Caesar salads and as pizza toppings; they’re also a key ingredient in the feed for farmed salmon.

The shortage in fish meal came on the heels of a second meteriological event beyond human control, the drought in America’s heartland. As a result, the corn crop dropped by almost 50 percent, and the price of corn almost doubled this year.

Those perky yellow ears of corn on the grocery shelves are deceiving; the vast majority of America’s corn is used for ethanol, animal feed and sweeteners. One reason that American beef is significantly more expensive this year than last, of course, is that much of this year’s vastly reduced corn crop is being diverted from feed lots to distilleries, distilleries which produce ethanol for fuel, aside from the conversion of corn to high fructose corn syrups as industrial sweeteners.

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